KOCHI:The table tennis venue at Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium came alive with action a little after 11pm on Saturday. At the nine tables set in three rows, girls and boys assiduously shot away the small yellow balls darting at them, with varying degrees of success.
Beside the second row stood Maharashtra team manager Sriram Konkar. Rather than the match between his team and Andhra Pradesh unfolding in front of him, he seemed to be absorbed in a clash playing live on a giant screen placed above at the far end of the tables. What caught his attention, displacing his focus on Maharashtra’s effortless cruise towards victory, was Olympian Neha Aggarwal of Delhi locked in a fierce exchange of shots with the 17-year-old Kerala captain Maria Rony.
“Oh she is back huh,” said Sriram, referring to a short break Neha took in her career nursing fever and making amends for the subsequent loss of training. “She is playing superbly yaar,” he added.
Neha, the only Indian paddler who qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, celebrated her 25th birthday with a straight-sets victory (11-5, 11-9, 12-10) to begin her National Games campaign. In the process, she helped her team win 3-0 against Kerala.
Like a birthday gift, what she treasures most now is a tweet from former Union minister and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who released a picture of him clicked along with her after the National Games inauguration on the micro blogging site. Tharoor tweeted on Saturday, “With Stephanian Neha Aggarwal of Delhi, TT Olympian, & a squash player outside the stadium (sic).”
“You know he is so nice. After knowing that I studied at St Stephen’s College (where Tharoor also did his graduation) in Delhi, he clicked a picture with us and put is up on Twitter,” said a smiling Neha.
And she had tweeted back: “Thanks for ur time sir, u are such an inspiration. Honored to hv met you!.” As regards her match with Maria, Neha was all praise for Maria, who according to her put in a very good fight despite her lack of experience. “I think she is younger to me and was not at her best,” said the paddler.